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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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JUDGES 7

THE ROUT OF THE MIDIANITES;

GIDEON ENCAMPS NEAR THE MIDIANITES

{"Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people that were with him, rose up early, and encamped beside the spring of Harod: and the camp of Midian was on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh in the valley."}

"It is impossible at this time exactly to locate these opposing armies,"F1 except that the confrontation was somewhere in the western portion of the valley of Jezreel. It is not the exact location here; this is important. The great fact is that Gideon, having been greatly encouraged by the sign of the fleece (at the end of preceding chapter), took his army of some 32,000 armed men and confronted the encampment of the hordes of the Midianites. This was a development which the Midianites had not expected, as their previous seven years of raiding the helpless Israelites had been very successful with practically no opposition. This was a new year and a new situation!

JEHOVAH REDUCES GIDEON'S ARMY

{"And Jehovah said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying; Mine own hand hath saved me. Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying; Whomsoever is fearful and trembling; let him turn and depart from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand."}

The character of ancient Israel being what it was, for any victory to have been achieved involving large numbers of them would surely have resulted exactly as the Lord here said to Gideon. The great purpose of God in the defeat of the Midianites was that it might thwart the movement of God's people toward idolatry and turn them again to their allegiance to God. For the accomplishment of that goal, it was absolutely necessary that the victory should be clearly that of God Himself and not by Israel in their own might.

"The number of the Midianites and their allies was about 135,000 men (Judges 8:10)."F2 And the reduction which God accomplished in Gideon's forces would have appeared to be absolute madness by any general not endowed with Gideon's faith.

{"Proclaim in the ears of the people"} (Judges 7:3). "This proclamation was in full accordance with the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 20:8)."F3 If this is a fair cross-section of human opinion, it indicates that the vast majority of men involved in warfare actually have no enthusiasm for it, but are merely involved due to peer pressure or some other motivation.

{"Let him return and depart from mount Gilead"} (Judges 7:3). The difficulty with this is that Gilead was east of the Jordan River, and the confrontation between Gideon's forces and the Midianites was west of the Jordan. Scholars have "solved" the difficulty by "emending" (that means substituting their own opinion for what is written) the text to make it read: "From mount Gilboa."F4 The suggestion of Keil is a far better solution. "There was a mountain or a mountain range named Gilead in western Palestine, just as there was a range of mountains called Seir in the territory of Judah."F5 Just look at a map of the U.S.A., for example, there are multiple cities named, Lincoln, Georgetown, Paducah, Washington, Nashville, Atlanta and dozens of others. The fact that an "unknown" Mount Gilead is mentioned here is fully in keeping with the fact that not any of the places mentioned here can be identified with any certainty. Hervey also mentioned the fact that, "`Mount Gilead,' was a stereotyped expression for `home,' used by all the tribe of Manasseh, both by those on the east of Jordan in whose territory Gilead was located, and by those on the west side of Jordan also."F6 It is this writer's opinion that alleged "scholars" have been far too ready to "emend" difficult passages to change their meaning instead of seeking an explanation of the text as it stands.

GOD CUTS GIDEON'S NUMBER DOWN TO 300

{"And Jehovah said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. So he brought down the people unto the water: and Jehovah said unto Gideon, Everyone that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shall thou set by himself; likewise everyone that boweth down upon his knees to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And Jehovah said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thy hand; and let all the people go every man unto his place. So the people took victuals in their hand, and their trumpets; and he sent all the men of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the three hundred men: and the camp of Midian was beneath him in the valley."}

{"Bring them down to the water"} (Judges 7:4). God has frequently devised a "water test" in the achievement of his holy purposes. It was a water test that selected Rebekah to be the wife of Isaac (Genesis 24:43-46). It was the water test that separated liberated Israel from the pursuing legions of Pharaoh, and here God selected the triumphant three hundred from the ten thousand by a water test. Even today, God chooses among the sons of men by another water test -- immersion (Mark 16:15,16).

Barnes was of the opinion that the choice of the three hundred was due to the fact that they, "Slaked their thirst with moderation, and without being off their guard for an instant,"F7 which caution was not exhibited by the great majority who simply bowed down upon their knees to drink of the stream of water. Although, that may very well be the grounds of the selection, there is also the definite possibility, as suggested by Bruce, that, "The test was quite arbitrary."F8

{"So the people took victuals in their hand, and their trumpets"} (Judges 7:8). Some of the versions read `provisions' here instead of "victuals." The significant thing is that ALL of the trumpets were left with the three hundred men. "Thus every one of the three hundred men had a trumpet."F9

GIDEON IN THE CAMP OF MIDIAN

{"And it came to pass that same night, that Jehovah said unto him, Arise, get thee down into the camp; for I have delivered it into thy hand. But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Purah thy servant down to the camp: and thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thy hands be strengthened to go down into the camp. Then went he down with Purah his servant unto the outermost part of the armed men that were in the camp. And the Midianites, and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like locusts for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand which is upon the sea-shore for multitude. And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man telling a dream unto his fellow; and he said, Behold, I dreamed a dream; and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came unto the tent, and smote it so that it fell, and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat. And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: into his hand God hath delivered Midian, and all his host."}

{"If thou fear to go down, go thou down with Purah"} (Judges 7:10). This was God's concession to the human weakness of Gideon, who no doubt was indeed afraid to go down into the camp of the 135,000 Midianites and their allies. Gideon admitted that fear, when he took Purah with him on that journey. This mention of the great hero's fear was cited by Cundall as denying any probability of "Any fabrication of this narrative."F10 True to the Biblical character observable in both the O.T. and the N.T., the sins, weaknesses and shortcomings of its heroes are mentioned along with their successes and achievements.

{"Cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian ... came unto the tent ... turned it upside down"} (Judges 7:13). "The word `tent' here is a proper name, such as `Pentagon.'"F11 "It probably means `the tent of the king of Midian,' or that of the captain of his host."F12

{"Cake of barley bread"} (Judges 7:13). Barley bread was the prevailing diet of the poor; and in context, it here stands for Israel or Gideon.

This dream signified that God would deliver the whole host of the Midianites and their allies into the hands of Gideon.

{"This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon"} (Judges 7:14). This revealed a very significant fact regarding the Midian host, namely, that they were fully aware of Gideon's identity, having no doubt heard of his exploits in destroying the altar of Baal. Their intelligence service was also fully aware of the thousands who had rallied behind Gideon.

There was another factor that struck fear into the hearts of the invading raiders. "The great host of the Midianite enemies contained not only fighting men, but the whole baggage of the army, which had invaded Israel as nomads, with their wives, their children, their flocks and herds, etc."F13 The seven previous years of uninterrupted plundering had resulted in that extremely vulnerable conglomeration of marauders.

As a result, there must have been vast numbers of the invaders who were extremely apprehensive of the situation as it developed. The way "his fellow" interpreted the dream proves this.

There can be little doubt that Gideon and Purah returned from their mission of reconnoitering greatly encouraged and brimming full of confidence of the success of their assault against the Midianites.

The dream featured in this passage was a prophecy, "Of the overthrow of `the Tent,' symbolical of the rout and destruction of the Midianite host."F14 God Himself caused the dream, having determined beforehand both the dream and its inspired interpretation, and He caused Gideon to descend into the Midianite camp in order to hear it, thus greatly strengthening Gideon's faith and determination.

GIDEON ANNOUNCES THE STRATEGY OF ATTACK

The text does not state that God commanded Gideon exactly what to do, but he obviously did so. It is simply inconceivable that any mortal commander could have devised such a strategy from merely human considerations.

{"And it was so, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof, that he worshipped; and he returned into the camp of Israel, and said, Arise; for Jehovah hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian. And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put into the hands of all of them trumpets, and empty pitchers, with torches within the pitchers. And he said unto them, Look on me, and do likewise: and, behold, when I come to the outermost part of the camp, it shall be that, as I do, so shall ye do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpet also on every side of all the camp, and say, For Jehovah and for Gideon."}

{"He put into the hands of all of them trumpets ..."} (Judges 7:16). The divine intelligence of this strategy is in this matter of the trumpets. A trumpet (singular) was the signal for movement of a whole company of men, and any soldier hearing such a signal would have expected a charging assault by the company following that signal. Thus, when three hundred trumpets sounded simultaneously from all sides of the Midianite encampment, the message for the Midianites would certainly have been interpreted as the charge of an almost innumerable host of attackers. There is no wonder that the ensuing panic completely destroyed the invaders.

{"For Jehovah and for Gideon"} (Judges 7:18). Some versions have "The sword of Jehovah and of Gideon," but, "There is no word for `sword' in the Hebrew text."F15 However, it appears from Judg. 7:14,19 that Gideon's men were indeed armed with swords. Hervey suggested that the battle-cry was abbreviated in these words. It is significant that Jehovah's name is mentioned ahead of Gideon's name. In the strictest sense, the victory belonged to Jehovah, not to Gideon.

THE ATTACK

{"So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came to the outermost part of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch, and they blew the trumpets, and brake in pieces the pitchers that were in their hands. And the three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the torches in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands wherewith to blow; and they cried, The sword of Jehovah and of Gideon. And they stood every man in his place round about the camp; and all the host ran; and they shouted and put them to flight. And they blew the three hundred trumpets, and Jehovah set every man's sword against his fellow, and against all the host; and the host fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. And the men of Israel were gathered together out of Naphtali, and out of Asher, and out of all Manasseh, and pursued after Midian."}

{"In the beginning of the middle watch"} (Judges 7:19). Ancient Israel divided the night into three watches of four hours each -- 6 o'clock to 10 o'clock, etc. Therefore, the beginning of the middle watch would have been about 10:00 p.m., shortly after the changing of the guard. By far the greater portion of the Midianite host would have been sound asleep.

"This old Jewish method of `three watches' is alluded to in Exo. 14:24; 1 Sam. 11:11 and in Lam. 2:19; after the Jews fell under the power of the Romans, they used the Roman method of `four watches' per night, having three hours each. This was the system mentioned in the gospels Matt. 14:25 and in Mark 13:35."F16

{"Torches in their left hands ... trumpets in their right hands"} (Judges 7:20). The type of cavil we have come to expect from critical writers on the Bible is the following: "If each soldier carried a trumpet, a torch, an empty pitcher and a sword, his hands were too full."F17 Based upon this remark, that writer "solved" the "problem" by postulating different "sources," allocating the pitchers and torches to one source, and the trumpets and swords to another source. Of course, this is a foolish observation. Cundall explained the situation by pointing out that, "The `trumpets' were made of rams or cattle horns and were attached to the wearer in such a way that the hands were free."F18 Swords, of course, were not carried in the hand, but in a scabbard by the soldier's side. Furthermore, the pitchers were shattered as the attack began, leaving Gideon's men free to wave the torch in the left hand and to hold the trumpet wherewith to blow in the right hand, just as the text says. Also, there is no evidence that Gideon's men struck a single blow with their swords; they did not need to do that. The Midianites destroyed themselves!

{"And they stood every man in his place round about the camp"} (Judges 7:21). These men were NOT using their swords at all; they were blowing their trumpets with all their might. They continued to blow the trumpets, and added to the noise resulting from the panic in the enemy's camp, their terror and confusion were augmented and compounded.

{"Jehovah set every man's sword against his fellow, and against the whole camp"} (Judges 7:22). "That is to say, not merely man against man, but against everyone in the camp, so that there arose a terrible slaughter throughout the whole camp."F19

{"Naphtali ... Asher ... Manasseh ..."} (Judges 7:23). What is meant here is that the soldiers of these tribes, also including those of Zebulun, whose name is omitted here, as Keil noted, "Probably due solely to the brevity of the account,"F20 had evidently remained nearby to the battle area instead of every man returning to his home, and, therefore, when the rout of Midian occurred, large forces of these tribes were able to join in the pursuit as Midian fled eastward across the Jordan.

THE PURSUIT AND SLAUGHTER OF THE MIDIANITES

{"And Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill-country of Ephraim, saying, Come down against Midian, and take before them the waters, as far as Beth-barah, even the Jordan. So all the men of Ephraim were gathered together, and took the waters as far as Beth-barah, even the Jordan. And they took the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb; and they slew Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they slew at the winepress of Zeeb, and pursued Midian: and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, beyond the Jordan."}

{"Ephraim ... took the waters ... even the Jordan"} (Judges 7:24). The powerful tribe of Ephraim was here solicited to join in the campaign against Midian, and they promptly responded. By some chance or oversight Gideon had not solicited their aid until this event; and that was to cause a complaint discussed later in Judg. 8. Gideon's diplomacy solved the problem satisfactorily.

{"They slew Oreb ... and Zeeb"} (Judges 7:25). These were mighty princes of Midian; and to Ephraim went the honor of executing these leaders of the hordes of invasion. Nothing is known of "the rock" or the "winepress" where those princes met their death; but no doubt the Israelites pointed out the places for years afterward.

"'Oreb' means "raven,' and `Zeeb,' means `wolf."'F21

{"They brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon beyond the Jordan"} (Judges 7:25). Events had moved very rapidly in this complete rout and defeat of the Midianites and their allies. Some of the invaders had passed over the Jordan in their flight eastward, probably at some obscure crossing not controlled by the Ephraimites; and Gideon had already crossed over the Jordan in their pursuit. The main forces of the enemy were intercepted at the Jordan by the Ephraimites who slew the princes and took their heads to Gideon as he continued to fight the Midianites east of Jordan.

God had fulfilled his promise to deliver Israel from Midianite oppression by the hand of Gideon.


Footnotes for Judges 7
1: C. F. Keil in the Keil-Delitzsch Commentaries, Old Testament, Vol. 2-A, p. 240.
2: Ibid., p. 341.
3: Albert Barnes, Notes on Bible Books, Judges, p. 434.
4: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2, p. 737.
5: C. F. Keil in the Keil-Delitzsch Commentaries, op. cit., p. 341.
6: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 2-C, p. 73.
7: Albert Barnes, Notes on Bible Books, op. cit., p. 434.
8: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 364.
9: C. F. Keil in the Keil-Delitzsch Commentaries, op. cit., p. 343.
10: The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 7, p. 111.
11: The Anchor Bible Commentary, Judges, p. 146.
12: Albert Barnes, Notes on Bible Books, op. cit., p. 434.
13: C. F. Keil in the Keil-Delitzsch Commentaries, op. cit., p.345.
14: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 3-C, p. 78.
15: Ibid.
16: Albert Barnes, Notes on Bible Books, op. cit., p. 435.
17: Arthur S. Peake Commentary, p. 264.
18: The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 112
19: C. F. Keil in the Keil-Delitzsch Commentaries, o. cit., p. 348.
20: Ibid., p. 350.
21: The Anchor Bible Commentary, Judges, p. 251.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Judges 7". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=jud&chapter=007>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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